SIP 14.5 Ideas for Diversifying Your Course

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Students participating in a mural painting class.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “diversify” means to make varied or to become more diverse, to be composed of unlike elements and to enlarge or vary a range of products or a field of operation. The way our educational system has diversified curriculum in the past has concentrated on K-12 initiatives primarily focused on adding in representations of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), same sex-parents or people with disabilities into student literature choices, classroom and school posters, and brief historical accounts or examples. More recently, this idea of diversifying the curriculum has applied to adding in BIPOC authors and giving alternative perspectives space in history and current social problems. Truly diversifying our courses is about creating courses that are varied and have a range of unlike elements throughout the course, including:

  • Pedagogies (i.e., feminist, liberatory, critical, etc.)
  • Language (how and why we choose to use or NOT use words such as “alternative” or “traditional” in our material descriptions)
  • Student participation and voice in course creation
  • Contemporary and relevant materials
  • Applied ways of knowing and cultural strengths in learning
  • Discipline-specific canons (and experts) we use as our foundation
  • Content

Incorporating these “varied and unlike elements” most likely means we will need to challenge ourselves, students, colleagues and disciplines to imagine what is possible in higher education. Though diversifying our courses is not a systemic solution, it is a start in addressing the need for change within higher education to prepare ourselves and students to address the complex problems and possibilities we face.

Take a SIP of this: diversifying your course

If you have five minutes:

  • Think of three ways you can include student voice in your course creation, facilitation and evaluation.
  • Timecheck your materials: Are they published within the past five (but no more than 10) years and relevant to your students?
  • Follow educators in your field who are different from you on Twitter, TikTok or Newsletters and listen to their perspectives and innovations.
  • Learn how to turn on closed captions or transcription in Teams or Zoom for students who like to read and listen at the same time or who need CC/transcription for understanding.

If you have 30 minutes:

  • Ask your students for their recommendations on course content for certain areas of class (articles, TikToks, blogs, Instagram, etc.). Think about how you could incorporate their suggestions.
  • Investigate what types of examples and language you are using for math, stats, case studies and other problem-based learning?
  • Review a case study, quiz problems or test questions, paying attention to types of names, examples, images and references used.
  • In your case studies or literature, who are the heroes/heroines, the experts, the teachers, the people in power? Who are the people who need help, who are in trouble, who face misfortune?
  • Write for five minutes about your preferred ways of knowing/learning, what types of knowing you value and how your ways of knowing influence your course design and content (using all scientific academic journals vs. firsthand accounts). After writing, think about how your course could grow to include ways of knowing and learning other than your own.
  • Review who gets space in your class, who is included, who is excluded. A diverse list incorporates many voices including students, cis and trans people, contemporary experts, LGBTQ people, women and men, BIPOC, people outside the U.S., older/younger people, academics, practitioners, historical figures, people with disabilities and people who immigrated to the U.S., among others. How could your list of authors or materials more accurately reflect our society and your discipline?

If you have an hour or more:

  • Have students rewrite test questions, case studies or other assignments that are more relevant to their identities and age.
  • Have your students write for five minutes about their “ways of knowing or cultural strengths in learning” after teaching them about it. Review their papers and adjust accordingly.
  • Email a colleague and invite them to coffee with the goal of adding to the list of experts in your discipline, diversifying your course design and expanding your “go-to” pedagogies or classroom activities.
  • Explore the canon in your discipline. Is there movement to decolonize the canon? If so, how? Share with students.
  • Review your course learning activities so you have a combination of collaborative, narrative, “right answers,” competitive, individual, group-based, problem-based and/or applied activities that are based in multiple pedagogies such as feminist, indigenous or critical pedagogies?

Still Thirsty? Take a SIP of this:

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